The great underlying felony was an alleged violation of the Lacey Act which bans the importation of loosely-defined endangered wood products. The two major woods involved in the raid are ebony and rosewood. India does not name either ebony or rosewood as endangered trees, but if the feds say they are, they must be. The act (if you can call it that) of possessing an inventory of exotic woods is not in and of itself a crime. Even the Lacey Act purports to regulate the importation of exotic woods, not to forbid it or make importation a criminal act. But concealment, now that might be a federal crime requiring a D-Day style invasion.
The raids were supposed to seize records which might indicate that at least some of the wood in Gibson's inventory was forbidden fruit, which then allowed a bootstrap armed raid to seize the wood which may or may not have been imported in violation of the Act. I haven't seen that much firepower since the feds grabbed little Elian Gonzales to send him off on a permanent vacation with his family in Cuba. I don't know what the feds expected. Look-alikes for Les Paul and Mary Ford armed with AK-47s and Uzis to keep them from seizing the fingerboards maybe?
This was all set up with the approval of President Barack Obama and his sterling Attorney General Eric Holder. It was one of their earliest “green preservation” initiatives. So you know there were no politics involved. In fact, Holder himself stated categorically: “ The actions that we take in all matters are based on the facts, the law, and the enforcement responsibilities that we have. We have no politics involved. That's not how we make decisions in this department.” You believe him, don't you?
But it does make one wonder, does it not? There are dozens of guitar manufacturers using the same woods from the same places. A few of the larger firms are serious competition for Gibson. But only Gibson was targeted. There is one small difference between Gibson and the other companies. The latter are either in the Democratic camp or quietly neutral. The CEO of Gibson, Henry Juszkiewicz, is a major Republican contributor and bundler. In addition, Gibson is proudly a non-union shop. Juszkiewicz is not shy about his public criticism of Obama and the entire administration.
Three years and millions of dollars in attorneys fees and investigative costs later, the most the government could prove was that Gibson may have been in violation of the Lacey Act solely because of a paperwork error in which Gibson accidentally exceeded its allowable inventory of exotic woods (largely the ebony). This attack also resulted in lost production, laid-off employees, lost income and therefore lost taxes. Try explaining that to a statist/socialist bureaucrat. All of this could have been avoided. Juszkiewicz stated that it was a matter that “Could have been addressed with a simple contact from a caring human being representing the government. Instead, the government used violent and hostile means.”
On August 6, the company and the government issued joint statements settling the case. Gibson will pay a $300,000 civil penalty along with a $50,000 payment to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (which quarterbacked the original investigation) which will research tree conservation activities (in India?). But Jerry Martin, US Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, just couldn't leave well enough alone. It was apparent that the government simply couldn't make its criminal case. But that didn't stop him from announcing: “This criminal enforcement agreement goes a long way in demonstrating the government's commitment to protecting the world's natural resources.”
In exchange for not having to continue throwing good company money after bad, the company gets its seized inventory back. That's a million dollars right there. In addition, it can continue to import ebony and rosewood so long as it is more scrupulous in keeping accurate books reflecting the quotas set by the Lacey Act. And the government was forced to agree jointly with Gibson that both “acknowledge and agree that certain questions and inconsistencies now exist regarding the tariff classification of ebony and rosewood fingerboard blanks under the Indian government's Foreign Trade Policy.” If you read between those lines, what it really means is both the Lacey Act and the Indian Foreign Trade Policy are so badly-written, then and now, that unintentional violations are almost inevitable.
The official statement from Gibson was more accurate than that of the US Attorney. “The company is gratified that the government ultimately saw the wisdom and fairness in declining to bring criminal charges in this case.” And to put the frosting on the cake, the government was required to agree not to undertake any future actions against Gibson until such time as the Indian government modifies its laws either to specifically allow or ban the sale and exportation of ebony and rosewood fingerboard blanks.
All of this adds up to one simple thing. The Obama administration is determined to do whatever is necessary to cripple its vocal opponents. Obama's enemies list dwarfs that of Richard Nixon. The Department of Justice has regularly been ordered to perform what lawyers call “selective enforcement.” And Holder has done it with gusto and a straight face. During this entire three-year exotic wood witch hunt, not one other guitar manufacturer received even a kindly inquiry from the Obama administration about the possible use of ebony and rosewood fingerboard blanks.
Play on, Les Paul.